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Plastics in Oceans: More Damaging Than Climate Change

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Zulima Palacio

The United Nations estimates that each one of us uses nearly 140 kilograms of plastic each year. At least 6.4 million metric tons of that plastic has ended up in the oceans. Environmental activist Captain Charles Moore has found that in some areas, plastic outweighs zooplankton - the ocean's food base - and is entering the food chain.  Our reporter talked to Capt. Moore about his efforts to document ocean pollution.  

Once upon a time, the oceans of our planet were beautifully clean.  Not any more.  Captain Charles Moore calls this 'the age of plastic.'

“Between 250 and 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year," said Capt. Moore. "To get that into terms you can understand, every two years we make enough plastic to be the equivalent of the weight of the 7 billion people on earth.”

In his new book, Plastic Ocean, Moore says less than five percent of all plastic is recycled and nearly three percent of world production is dumped into the ocean. That debris kills millions of sea creatures every year.

“We know over 100,000 albatross chicks are dying every year with their stomachs full of plastic; we have evidence that about 100,000 marine mammals die every year being tangled in plastic," he said.

Moore has spent his life on the ocean, and witnessed its transformation. In his book he tells about his 1997 voyage, discovering tons of plastic, floating in an endless spiral. In what is now known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, plastic outweighs plankton, by a factor of six to one.   

Moore created the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, and began to collect samples from the world's oceans.  He says plastic waste flows into oceans from rivers, beaches... and ships.

“Not only all the navies of the world but all the merchant vessels of the world, until the 1980s were routinely dumping all their garbage at sea," said Moore.

Moore says today ships of all flags and functions continue to ignore international agreements, dumping their trash into the ocean - synthetic chemicals, pesticides, nuclear waste, nerve and mustard agents.

He says he is upset by the destruction of his own habitat.

”Whether I am surfing, whether I am sailing, whether I am swimming, I am touching, seeing, running into persistent waste that will be there longer than any of our children, any of our grand children.  It will be there for centuries, it doesn’t go away, we are adding to it," said Capt. Moore.

The pollution expert carries with him a bag of sand, collected from a beach in Hawaii. He had it analyzed.  It is more than 90 percent plastic.

Captain Moore has worked with environmental filmmaker Bill Macdonald to document the plastic takeover of the oceans.  Macdonald provided most of the video in this story, including this octopus living in a plastic shower head

“There is not a lot of beauty in a river full of trash, I see herons that are frightened by Styrofoam floating around them," said Macdonald. "I see sea gulls trying to eat rubber gloves and all sorts of animals foraging around in what used to be natural debris is now contaminated with synthetics.”

And so the campaign continues. In Plastic Ocean, Captain Charles Moore calls plastic pollution more damaging than climate change, and issues a call to protect the oceans - where life began - for future generations.

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